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Methods of Evaluating Alignment with Dietary Guidance

The committee examined how well the recommended standards for menu planning and the menus themselves aligned with Dietary Guidelines and the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). To examine the change in alignment of the standards with food-specific Dietary Guidelines, the committee compared the recommended meal patterns with those specified in the current Meal Requirements (see Tables 8-1 and 8-2 in Chapter 8), reviewed the food items in the modified baseline and sample menus to verify their correspondence with the Dietary Guidelines, and also compared the recommended standards with recommendations for children in the Dietary Guidelines (see Appendix P).

Examination of the alignment with the DRIs included analysis of the breakfast and lunch menus for each age-grade group, using the School Meals Menu Analysis program (Appendix K), to determine their consistency with the recommended Nutrient Targets. (The Nutrient Targets were largely based on the DRIs.) The analysis covered 6 sets of modified baseline menus (5 menus for each meal and age-grade group) and 24 sets of sample menus (20 menus for each meal and age-grade group. The committee had written these menus using the new standards for menu planning.

The committee recognizes a number of limitations of the nutrient analyses of the sample menus, as identified below, and emphasizes that operators should not be asked to conduct comparable analyses.

  • The list of foods in the School Meals Menu Analysis program was limited in that it did not include a number of products with improved fat profiles that became available after the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment study (SNDA-III).

  • When exact matches for the newer foods were not found, other foods were selected to provide as close a match as possible.

  • Commercial products listed in the database may not offer the same nutrient content of similar items specifically created for Child Nutrition (CN) programs, such as CN-labeled products.

  • Similar items from different manufacturers may differ slightly in nutrient content; for example, sodium content may vary in different brands of chicken patties.

  • Industry partners frequently adjust ingredients and recipes to meet customer requests.

Nonetheless, the committee considers the analysis adequate to show approximately how well the standards for meal planning lead to menus that come close to the Nutrient Targets. Using existing USDA-approved software, operators will be able to obtain very good estimates of the calorie,

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